He stole a moment, just as he had for the evening. His empty apartment waited for him, just as he’d left it. It was just a space, a placeholder for moments not yet realized. He laughed, thinking about how he had wrestled the emptiness there and made it a force to be reckoned with. Space needs to be filled, and hearts need proximity and warmth to flourish.
It was exactly midnight when he stopped and exited the vehicle. The thermometer on his car read eighteen degrees. He didn’t feel the chill. Behind him, a moon that experts would describe as waning gibbous shone brightly above him with a wistful corona.
The fountain in front of him streamed up, illuminated underneath by shining beacons of light. The water jets found their way upward, fighting the battle with penetrating cold. Beneath, the encroaching ice formed and eddied. The surface of the artificial pond reflected the brilliant and ephemeral radiance of the lights as they created dancing shadows. He resisted taking a picture, knowing that the moment was impossible to grasp.
Instead, he recited his gratitude list as he stood on the pavement near the pond. If you were close enough, you might hear his voice whisper. Even if you didn’t hear the words, you would recognize the tenor of sincere hope and prayer for more moments.
He felt a kinship with that fountain, one left to fight the cold and ice.
He turned and looked up at the moon, a lifeless rock hovering countless miles above him.
He stole this moment.
He drove back to his apartment. It was no longer empty, not just because he filled it upon his arrival. But because he was filled in a way that’s impossible to explain to people who don’t experience it. The moon and the fountain danced in his head as he waited for the stolen moment to fade.
“Pretzel fish,” he whispered. And he laughed, his voice echoing in the empty apartment. It was not a hollow echo. The moon and the fountain’s light now existed there.
If you’re like me, you read a wide variety of blogs. Not all are created equal.
I have two to recommend to you. Both are written by the same “clever girl” mind. She’s smart, focused, and also writing through her experiences as a human being. She isn’t a writer by profession; that will probably change over time.
The first is a blog dedicated to her ordeal, anguish, and recovery as she deals with her life intersecting with a villainous human being.
The second is one she recently started in response to the amassing stockpile of creativity she fills her head with. I expect great things to blossom from her second blog.
Rajid sat on the porch, his legs hanging off the rough-cut planks. The sun hadn’t yet risen. Next to him, his hand held a cup of coffee, cooling and forgotten. His restless mind was trapped in nostalgia, the kind that both warms and chills. He couldn’t believe he was sitting on a porch that he’d built, much less at 4:20 a.m. The cool breeze felt like a new life.
He remembered the day that the idea for the primitive cottage occurred to him. No one knew it, but it was the morning that he decided that he wasn’t sure he wanted to be alive for another year. Depression wasn’t normal for him. It held him in a close grip for months, growing like a wildflower in his mind. Though he looked normal to everyone he met, the feedback loop of self-destruction grew and controlled him.
He went to work, drained and resigned. Instead of working on his reports, he absent-mindedly scrolled through the ads his company helped place. He spotted the old cottage on the bottom of the real estate listings—the part of the page where properties sat and languished without interest. The dilapidated cottage was ugly and barren. He could see the missing clapboards, the windows that didn’t match, and the pitched roof. For the first time in months, he felt the stirrings of something optimistic. Without realizing it, he formulated a plan in the back of his mind.
Two weeks later, after resigning from his job, he liquidated everything he owned; the ugly cottage was his once closing finalized. He didn’t wait, however. His garage was filled with paints, windows, and miscellany for his new home. He didn’t consciously realize that the depression that gripped him disappeared as activity and planning overtook his waking moments. When he handed the keys to his larger house to the real estate agent, he felt like he was surrendering his ghost.
Every waking moment filled with nails, saws, and videos for DIY enthusiasts. He’d never been so exhausted in his life. Each morning, though, he crawled out of the sleeping bag on the worn porch, revitalized. He drank his coffee while sitting on either the front porch or the back one. The back porch was almost unusable when he got the keys to the cottage. During the day, he stopped only to eat a quick sandwich and a piece of fruit. After a few weeks, he started listening to music again, humming and singing along to familiar songs he’d once loved. On a particular Thursday, he realized that he’d been whistling along loudly to several songs. He smiled to himself. His skin browned and his body shed itself of all the weight that inactivity and inertia had accumulated.
In the late evenings, he sometimes drank a small coffee cup full of whiskey and used a temporary construction light to sit and read. He didn’t miss his television. He crawled inside his sleeping bag each night, thinking of all the things he’d do tomorrow. After three months, he stopped laughing at the idea that he might not see the next tomorrow.
Last night, he finished the wood plank floor in the living area of the cottage. He sat on the rough wood cross-legged, looking around the room. It was his and every finished surface echoed his sensibilities. He woke up the next morning at 4, his body stiff from the wood underneath him. He could sleep anywhere now and be at peace. In his previous life, his thousand-dollar mattress wasn’t enough to give him comfort. Somehow, he’d stripped his life down to activity, the bare minimum of food, and the absence of thoughts about himself.
He swung his legs back and forth and made the small jump down to the ground below. As he landed and stood straight up, he turned to look at the simple shutters and the porch. Everything was dark, with just enough illumination to see the outlines of his work. He nodded.
This place was his, as was his life again. He turned to walk up the railroad tie porch steps and make another cup of coffee. While it perked, he would listen to his muse and decide what he wanted to do with the rest of his life.
“What’s for dinner?” he asked, knowing the answer.
She was already wrist-deep in her bowl of ice cream, her legs tucked carelessly under one another in her favorite chair.
She smiled, letting a gush of liquid ice cream run across her lips. She tried to slurp it back inside but the ice cream dripped across her shirt. She looked up at him, sheepishly, then smiled all the way across her face.
He shook his head. “What am I supposed to eat?”
“Duh!” she half-hollered. “Get over here.” She winked.
He walked across the floor and sat next to her chair, his arm draped across her legs. As she spooned another bite of ice cream, he closed his eyes and opened his mouth wide. She airplaned the spoon toward his face and put the spoon inside his mouth.
He opened his eyes and laughed, savoring the ice cream.
He said, “Yum” in a gravelly voice at least fifteen times, knowing she would playfully object to his exaggerated enthusiasm.
“Here, have another bite of MY ice cream, then.” She airplaned another bite into his mouth.
They both laughed.
As he stood up and gave her a peck across the top of her head, he said seriously, “What’s for dessert, though?”
She threw her head back and laughed, her voice dropping an octave.
He walked along the slippery path, the warm sun hitting his back. Around him, the blanket of snow melted lazily, and the tree limbs grew lighter as the burden of snow melted and clumped away. The air was cold and crisp, but no wind caressed him. He would have welcomed a cold wind to challenge the torrents eddying around in his head.
He learned a new lesson recently, but it was an intangible and elusive one, its tentacles tingling around the fringes of his thoughts. He couldn’t help but to indict and convict himself repeatedly.
Early in the morning, he noted her absence from his notifications. He watched as the 14,000 messages disappeared. He thought he was deleting just one because of his unfamiliarity with the app. He had saved several of the great stories written in tandem, and for that, he was thankful. It felt a little like he was emptying as he watched the unexpected progress bar work its way across his phone.
She opened up to him the shared experience of writing stories like an artful duet; it was one he hadn’t expected but also recognized immediately as innate. Even if their connection had remained at writing stories, it would have filled him. He was outmatched from the beginning. Of course, there was more than just writing, as sublime and fulfilling as that was. The ‘more’ was a welcome shock to him, full of firsts and laughter.
He wasn’t quite sure what he had done wrong, but he knew with certainty that she hadn’t been guilty of any misdeed. Which only left him accused and guilty.
Anyone who says that you can’t forge a connection over the expanse of geography is wrong. Without the obstacle of space between, they would not have misstepped as they danced. Proximity parts the clouds. In so many ways, interacting with ideas, laughter, and clarity is a much better way to get inside someone’s head. But nearness would have erased the divide that ultimately undid their overlap.
He learned that people who make such connections with warmth and laughter are rare. He had let one down. He found himself paying the price with empty moments. Instinctively, he looked at his phone again to see it blank.
He walked faster and faster, knowing he could not outpace the absence.
He continued to walk, his eyes watching his shadow lengthen. After thirty minutes, he stopped and waved, wondering whether his affirmation would travel through time and geography.
He whispered to himself as he started walking again, the sun on his back. Only the scattered pine cones beneath his feet heard him.
The apartment was mostly empty yet filled with echoes with her every movement. It would take time to fill it with the residue of life; that she would do so wasn’t in doubt. A mattress, a chair, and a couple of bar stools comprised the inventory of her life. It was more than enough for now. The truth is that although she had a life of accumulation until now, she was a woman of few necessities: family, affection, laughter, and learning. That she had one lightbulb for all her lamps amused her.
Her new life hadn’t started in the way that she had hoped. Instinctively, she knew that it never would. A violent and uncaring outburst propelled her out and away from her accumulated comforts. It was the culmination of years of neglect. Her optimism and loyalty held her there, static and suffocating. That same optimism pivoted her focus toward the years ahead. Each day, she resisted the tentacles of her previous life as they scurried along behind her, attempting to hold her in place. People want you to be the person you’ve always been, even if that person could soar in the clouds with the proper attention. Love wants you to morph and change with time. She knew that all the people in her new life would wish for her to spread her wings.
She meandered around the apartment, listening for the sounds of her new neighbors, hearing the clicks of the ice machine as it methodically dropped fresh ice cubes in the plastic bin in her smaller fridge. Her eyes moved along the living room floor, planning where her new furniture might be placed, what colors she might choose, and what things she might want. Whatever those things might be, she would select all of them with freedom and opportunity in mind. Each choice would be hers. She loved the way that settled in her mind.
After a few minutes, she sat in her chair in the corner of the living room, pulling a throw around her for warmth. Placing her phone on the charger nearby, she picked up her book and began reading. She picked up a pretzel or a tiny bit of chocolate and nibbled every few minutes. The minutes flowed around her and enveloped her. Her mind followed the book, and she forgot herself as she read.
A faint noise from a nearby apartment roused her from her reading and thoughts. She looked up and around the apartment. How empty it seemed. Yet, for the first time in a long time, she felt like her life was her own. The echoes of emptiness would be filled, her circle of like-minded people who appreciated her would grow, and her new normal would be the life she craved.
The shadows were long across the living room floor, the early afternoon light approaching and creating diagonal tapestries across the wood. The to-do list went untouched since yesterday afternoon. None of their movies or shows in the queue had been noticed. They both put their books down simultaneously, looked at each other, and laughed.
“We should really do something today,” she said.
“Yes, there’s a lot to do,” he acknowledged.
They both shrugged and laughed again.
He stood up and placed his book on the cushion of the green sofa. She did the same.
He walked into the bedroom and pulled the comforter back and jumped into bed like an amateur gymnast. Without a word, she followed him and dived onto the bed next to him, her arms wrapping around him as she laid her head on his chest. He yanked the comforter over them both, creating a cocoon around them.
And they lay there for an hour, just letting the bed warm them and each other. Their arms adjusted as they cuddled.
For an hour, they accomplished nothing.
It was the perfect afternoon. Nothing done, yet everything they needed.
They sat in Adirondack chairs away from the illumination of the back patio light, their faces covered in faint shadows. The firepit nearby threw orange glints of color across their faces as the breeze passed over them. They didn’t need to see one another to know that each of them had a half-revealed smile dancing across their lips.
For an hour they’d sat, bantering like every word needed to be uttered before the moon faded. He playfully strummed the banjo nestled across his knees, the notes elicited both discordant and comforting. Every once in a while, his fingers seemed to accidentally hit a lyrical chord. The banjo was a prank as well as a talisman for them, a joke that was taken so far that he had dared surprise her with one for her birthday.
They spoke simultaneously, the tumult of both extemporaneous and considered words tumbling from their respective lips. “You go first,” they said in unison, then laughed.
As their laughter faded, a young voice yelled from the confines of the house, “Geez, knock it off already! It’s time for bed.”
They looked at each other and snickered.
He picked up the banjo and pretended that he was going to play it.
And then his fingers melded with the banjo, his left hand structuring a chord.
“Surprise,” he whispered. “You have to make something new and surprising each day.”
As she watched in amazement, he played “Colour My World” by Chicago, a song she had not appreciated until that moment. He sang the few words contained in the song, his voice cracking with emotion. His voice was not trained, though his heart echoed in every enunciated syllable. Her mouth opened wide and in shock. Something broke inside her and the laughter transposed into warmth, an ocean of feeling. She closed her eyes and swayed, a smile playing across her face.
He let his fingers strum the melody one more time, a coda of promise, regret, and longing. He knew that the melody had somehow conveyed the optimism that filled him. The firepit cracked and spit sparks as the song faded.
He stood up and reached for her hand. Their fingers intertwined as they walked toward the house.
The world was indeed full of colors. And banjos.
P.S. I hope each of you has a metaphorical banjo, and someone who shares both laughter and their presence with you.
The first time he saw her, she was walking quickly past him. She looked up briefly at him, her eyes glinting in the sun, her glasses perched precariously on her nose. And then she smiled. Josh almost tripped as he nervously returned her smile. He noted her black turquoise sundress billowing on her in the gentle breeze.
He wanted to turn and look as she passed him. He held his breath for three of four seconds before he turned to look. As he paused, she quickly turned in his direction and looked back at him. She smiled again. And then she waved, grabbed the edges of her sundress above her knees, and curtsied. Josh was frozen in place. He quickly gave her a quick wave and then walked away. A smile soon spread across his face.
Within seconds, he felt his lips go numb as he walked. She was pretty, of that there was no doubt. Probably eccentric. Her smile cycled through his head repeatedly. Forgetting his meeting in twenty minutes, he turned and ran back along the path. He didn’t consider catching up to her or what he might say.
As he turned the bend in the walking path along the business park, he didn’t have time to pretend he wasn’t running. She sat on one of the green and yellow park benches, leaning back nonchalantly, her left arm draped across the back of the bench. Josh slowed his run and kept walking toward her. The awkwardness almost overwhelmed him. Instinct took over. She wasn’t fleeing him.
As he neared her, he tried in vain to summon the right words.
She surprised him by speaking first. “Don’t you know you shouldn’t chase girls?” She smiled again. “Come sit here and introduce yourself.”
He numbly walked up to the bench and sat within two feet of her.
“Well,” she said, “Do you have a name?”
“Yes,” he answered. “Oh, it’s Josh.”
“Josh, I’m Jasmine. Pleasure to meet you.” She held out her right hand Josh took it. Her fingers curled around his and gently shook his hand.
She didn’t seem nervous or anxious about the moment of silence that fell between them.
“Why did you chase after me? This is your chance to do it right. I can guess, but I need to you say it.” She smiled and winked at him.
He’d never met anyone so confident or self-assured. Her black turquoise sundress lay against her legs. Her eyes sparkled behind her glasses.
“You smiled at me. It was like you saw me. You know what I mean. You’re a pretty lady. Pretty ladies don’t look at me.” Josh was stammering.
“They don’t? That’s too bad, Josh. You are an attractive man. Nervous, maybe, but we can work on that.” She waited for him to reply.
When no words came from Josh, Jasmine reached inside the small pocket of her sundress and pulled out a cellphone and little wallet holder. She extricated a business card and reached over to him.
He accepted it as if it were radioactive. He turned the card over. On the front, a silhouette of a woman and dark hair. Jasmine. Her phone number and email.
When he looked back up at her, she smiled again and said, “Call me. Don’t think about it. Just do it. I believe in this kind of capricious moment, Josh.”
Jasmine stood up and curtsied toward him again. She turned, her sundress twirling. Josh noted she wore white sneakers. He noted the gentle curve of her legs, too.
She walked away as if she had no care in the world.
Josh sat on the park bench, his eyes looking at the business card blindly. Suddenly, he realized he would be late for his meeting. He found himself running back in the opposite direction. When he arrived, he was panting and sat down at the conference table. Though the matter at hand required his attention, he discovered that he spent most of the meeting gazing out the window at the expanse of the park that ran parallel to the business park.
When the meeting concluded, Josh skipped the elevator and walked to the stairs, taking them two and three at a time. As he exited the building, he walked toward the small man-made creek next to the walking path. He took his phone from his pocket and nervously dialed Jasmine’s number before paralysis overtook him.
It rang three times. He decided she wouldn’t answer an unknown number. On the fourth ring, just as voicemail was about to engage, she answered.
Her voice sounded heavenly. “What took you so long, Josh?” She laughed.
“How did you know it was me?” he asked, a little confused.
“Fate told me you’d call.” She paused.
“I don’t get a lot of calls from fate,” he said.
“That’s a good start and a witty answer. We’re going to change that too.” He could hear the smile in her voice.
“Let’s talk about when we can meet and share some laughter. And whatever else percolates.” Her voice resonated with confidence.
“I’d like nothing better, Jasmine.”
They talked for twenty more minutes, their banter growing.
When he hung up, he stood by the creek, watching it flow.
Optimism gripped him for the first time in a long time.